I’ll Just Have a Salad

Last week we posted this disguised-food link, and our comment was about how people deal with shame. Lori Selke picked it up as (well, duh!) a comment on food and gender.

Which made us want to write about food and gender. (Can you believe it took us over six months of blogging to get to food and gender?)

Food is gendered. What does that mean? Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. First of all, it doesn’t mean that beef is somehow male and greens are somehow female. It doesn’t mean women and men are hardwired to eat different things. Food is gendered in this culture because everything is gendered in this culture. What we talk about is gendered. What we learn about and how we learn it is gendered. What we do for fun is gendered.

By the way, all of these things are also class-based and ethnic, and we may get to that in later posts.

Here’s what we mean when we say food is gendered. Women are expected to want salads, vegetables, fancy chocolates, and sweet alcoholic drinks with umbrellas in them. Men are expected to want slabs o’ meat, potatoes, apple pie, and beer or hard liquor. Women are expected to comment in restaurants on the size of the portion and the presentation of the food before they take a bite. Men are expected to dig in. Women are expected to care about the health quality of what they eat, and to be somewhat knowledgeable about what’s healthy and what isn’t. The word “anti-oxidant” trips lightly off a woman’s tongue. Men are expected to eat “what they want” and not concentrate on health issues.

In the keynote essay for Familiar Men, we discuss the “masculinity box,” the ways in which the world is always checking on men to make sure they fit, that they aren’t behaving like wimps, faggots, or girls. For lots of complicated reasons, there’s a somewhat larger box for women, but food is definitely a place where the “femininity box” also holds sway.

So here’s just one thing to think about: how full is the United States of men who are ordering steak and beer when they want a plate full of broccoli and a mango daiquiri? Of women who are ordering Caesar salad and a diet coke when what they want is rare roast beef and a huge baked potato? Of people who don’t even know what they want any more, because they’ve been so socialized to order appropriately?

<br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/food" rel="tag nofollow">food</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/gender" rel="tag nofollow">gender</a><br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/diet" rel="tag nofollow">diet</a><br /> femininity<br /> masculinity<br /> men<br /> women<br /> <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/Body+Impolitic" rel="tag nofollow">Body Impolitic</a><br />

14 thoughts on “I’ll Just Have a Salad

  1. I think that these issues are mitigated in my personal experiences, either by the metropolitan area I usually dine in (downtown Toronto), the social circle I usually dine with or the breaks in cultural expectations caused by the tendency, especially in Toronto, to eat often at restaurants of differing cultures than one’s own, where one might not understand such mores.

    I *was* however, intrigued to know what the difference between One A Day Multivitamin for Women and One A Day Multivitamin for Men was. Bear in mind that I was just holding the two side by side in the supermarket — I didn’t do a careful comparison in a spreadsheet. As far as I could tell offhand, they’re utterly identical except that the Men’s formula has no iron. Is the assumption that men eat enough red meat that they don’t have to worry about it?

    (Of special note: I bought the men’s formulation anyway, under some wayward assumption that the makers might know something I don’t about vitamin requirements or that I might have missed a detail. Looking back, it still seems weird to me. Why wouldn’t I buy the one with iron and ignore the name? I need iron, don’t I?)

    Totally aside: Is there any basis to that “pH balanced for women” business? Because I have to say, women get better deodorant scents. I’m tired of my scent options being, “Aggressive Athletic Musk,” or, “Power Jam 2000” instead of stuff I might want to smell like, like baby powder or something.

    In other news, I got a box of Pocky for Men for Christmas from a friend and Oksana and Sarah and a couple of my other female friends ate it all, delighting in the silliness of the supposed transgression.

  2. Just a quick thought (on a deeply complicated subject) about the statements people make with food choices, and the political and social ramifications. Forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, but doesn’t Dr. Phil owe his entire media juggernaut career to his association with Oprah, formed when he coached her for her testimony when she was sued by the beef industry? I believe the suit came from her remark on her show that she would never eat another hamburger. (Something to do with mad cow disease, I didn’t see and don’t remember the context of her remark, but it was a major ordeal for her and put her in the trenches with Dr. Phil, who used to work for lawyers.)

    I don’t mean to go all meat-negative here (deep down inside I’m a recovering steak and baked potato gal with a current major soy habit) but the other cultural instance that occurs to me is k.d. lang’s comment that she got a hundred times more mail for declaring herself a vegetarian than she did for coming out as a lesbian.

    By the way, commenting on Irfon’s comment: Pocky for Men, I had no idea! Pocky sticks are those Japanese chocolate tipped crispy cookie sticks, yes? They’re already pretty phallic, and I wonder what the “for Women” version would be…or if there is one…Pocky-O’s? Sorry, couldn’t resist. And, yes, I do realize that gender in food is not related to the shape of the food.

  3. More thoughtful answers later, but a quick response to Irfon now: the reason men’s multivitamins don’t have iron is that men don’t bleed, so they are far less likely to be anemic, and when they are anemic, it’s almost always a sign of a much more serious problem, which should be diagnosed rather than simply treated.

  4. I was about to say that, Debbie. Premenopausal women are presumed to need iron because of monthly blood loss. The vitamin formulas for women over 50 don’t contain iron, as it is assumed that most women over 50 no longer menstruate (which I can assure you is not necessarily true) & that there can be health problems associated with excessive iron intake.

    I am a woman & a beef lover who believes that soy foods are the work of the devil, & who has been informed that heavy soy use can increase cancer risks, so I feel no guilt about bucking the system of my generation & not being a vegetarian. I have no problems eating what I like, & I am a meat/potatoes/chocolate girl, though I do eat my fruits & veggies, my whole grains, & I love tea. I think that a lot of the so-called “gendering” of food comes from a culture which basically believes that women are not supposed to EAT…period…for the same reasons that our bodies are not supposed to carry visible fat, biology be damned! If we MUST eat in order not to die, then let us eat salad & maybe the occasional triangle of a cucumber sandwich with our tea. I like salads just fine, but they had better be served alongside a good source of protein.

  5. Patsy’s comment reminded me that my first comment on this managed to leave out my interest in the way people become invested in certain foods (both for and against). I think that dieting has become a minor religion in America because the process of assigning mystical value or evil intent to certain foods ties into our Judeo-Christian food taboos and uses of fasting and ritual foods.

    The idea of soy foods being “the work of the devil” is even funnier to me because when I stop eating soy foods I get hot flashes, so that devil protects me! But seriously, the very word tofu has become invested with what a professor friend calls a “swimming pool socialist” aura. Too many foods to mention have acquired this baggage. Remember “real men don’t eat quiche”?

    People look for magic, redemption and various types of identity in food, so no wonder discussions of it rake up emotions. The way in which food sustains our very life and affects us from moment to moment has miraculous qualities to it, and the way it affects us is not always immediate, which can give it a mystical quality, because it is literally hidden from view unless you know what you’re looking for. And even then, its effects can be subject to debate.

  6. I really don’t think that soy is the work of the devil, Lynn, I was joking there. I don’t like soy foods, though, & a nurse friend of mine who does a lot of deep health/food/fat-related research told me that there is a strong indication that high soy intake increases cancer risks, so that I didn’t need to FORCE myself to use soy to get through the menopausal crap. I get some hot flashes, but not too bad most of the time. I do love meat, I have to admit, & believe that all foods fit into a healthy diet, do not believe in any of the fad stuff or health being a religion. I come from a long line of people who cooked with lard (which I don’t), ate salt pork, & put 4 tsps of sugar in a cup of coffee, & lived into their 90’s, so I try to ignore all the “scares” conceived by the various big money interests & just live the way that feels right for ME. You may have your soy & you are welcome to my portion too, but if anyone tries to foist soy off on me & call it a burger, he or she may be prominently featured in your next mystery. :-) Maybe we can meet over the teapot.

    I have had two sons & spent nearly three years breastfeeding, but I guess my food preferences, except for that strong commitment to chocolate, make me a male. :-)

  7. I’m adding Pocky for Men to my list of surreal food. Thanks. And I am starting to wonder about the gender of asparagus. Male in shape…female in nature?

    I agree that gendering food is very often about women not eating. I was raised to eat “delicately” at least in public. I like salad but it’s a side dish in my life because my body doesn’t believe it’s “solid” food.

    The whole idea of food, morality, magic etc is _really_ interesting.
    We’re just blogging about a piece of it.

  8. I had a weird childhood in this regard because my dad was always on a diet, for health reasons, and complained about it a lot, and my mom never dieted for appearance or any other reason. She ate everything she wanted, but has a basically puritanical & denying attitude toward food that’s not gender based, as far as I can see. Much open disapproval for fat people of both gender for not being able to control themselves. Lots of “Don’t take a second helping, I’m saving that” and ‘Don’t touch that, you’ll spoil your dinner’ to both me and my dad. I was never urged to eat, for which I’m grateful, but I feel like the limiting on quantities and snacks made me the compulsive eater I am today. She doesn’t understand compulsion of any kind – “if you want to lose weight why don’t you just stop eating so much?” because she can stop eating or chewing gum or whatever if she chooses to. Anyway, so I have food problems but not the typical female ones.

    (Your link to Lori’s livejournal is wrong.)

  9. Lizzie’s comment reminder me of a very different and awful family experiece at dinner when my younger daughter was about five

    We were having elaborate dinner with her grandmother. She was telling her to eat, “don’t you like my food”, “have some more dessert etc”. Then as my daughter was swallowing her last bite of food, her grandmother said. “Don’t you think you’re gaining too much weight”. My daughter and I choked simutaneously.

    I did (pretty immediately) say all the right things but my outrage and anger is still vivid years later.

  10. I agree. Society imposes gender on absurd number of things. It always amuses me. It’s also fun to go to a restaurant. I order a meat dish and husband orders a salad and desert and majority of times, waitress switches our order in her head. lol.

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  12. The word “anti-oxidant” trips lightly off a woman’s tongue. Men are expected to eat “what they want” and not concentrate on health issues.

    This is news to me. Counting calories might be seen as a bit effeminate–I guess we men are supposed to control the composition of our bodies from the other side of the equation–but I’m not aware of any stereotypes associating knowledge of nutrition with women.

  13. I’m adding Pocky for Men to my list of surreal food. Thanks. And I am starting to wonder about the gender of asparagus. Male in shape…female in nature?

    Asparagus is one of those more primitive plants that come in male and female, so there are male asparagus, and there are female asparagus. The latter carry fruiting structures. The former produce pollinating structures.

  14. Everyone here have expressed themselves in such an elegant or witty manner, I feel inadequate to get my thoughts in this comment box. Ha,ha,ha.
    But I’ll say this… You all sure have given me food for thought. And I’m glad I already ate, because reading all of your comments might’ve sent me to the kitchen for some apple pie. Oh- shoot! Forgot I don’t have any pie. Well… tomorrow, I know what I’m having… a thick steak and huge baked potato. (Just half-kidding…’cause I don’t eat steak anymore). Seriously, though… I think it’s probably true that food is a gender thing. However, I tend to eat more like a man (as described in this blog). I haven’t gotten into Soy much, except I’ll have Soy Milk with my cereal occasionally. Bottom line is that I’ve finally learned not to be influenced by the diet industry or anyone else. They’ve made enough money off our insecurities.

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